Endorsement of ‘not claimed’ cannot be read as ‘refusal to accept’ the service of summons under Order V CPC

Bombay High Court: A Single Judge Bench comprising of A.M. Dhavale, J. allowed an appeal filed by the appellant-wife challenging an ex-parte order passed by a District Judge under Section 25 of the Guardians and Wards Act, 1890.

Vide the order impugned, custody of the minor girl aged 7 years was ordered to be handed over to the respondent-husband. The grievance of the appellant was that there was no proper service of summons on her and still the trial Judge proceeded ex-parte. As per the record of the trial court, summons were issued against the appellant in the present matter relating to the custody of the minor child. The bailiff visited her house. The appellant was out of station, the summons returned unserved. Trial Judge observed that summons were sent to the appellant but it returned with an endorsement as unserved. Therefore, he proceeded ex-parte against the appellant. Aggrieved by the said order, the appellant filed the instant appeal.

The High Court reiterated that the rule of fair trial is that nobody should be condemned unheard. It was observed that the present was not a case of proper service and the trial judge had no discretion to proceed ex-parte only on the basis of a  finding that notice was returned unserved.The envelope that was returned nowhere showed that the summons were refused by the appellant. The Court also referred to Order V CPC which deals with issue and service of summons. The Court was of the view that this was a child custody matter and the trial Judge was expected to be sensitive to the rights of the parties. The Court further observed, even it is assumed that the envelope returned with an endorsement as not claimed, still it does not mean that it is an endorsement of refusal to accept the service. Furthermore, even if there would have been a refusal to accept the service as per Order V Rule 17 CPC, service by affixing the copy of summons + plaint on the outer door or some other conspicuous part of the house. It was held that as there was no service of summons, the ex-parte order is not tenable and deserved to be set aside. [Jayshri Gajendra Mahajan v. Gajendra Pandit Mahajan,2018 SCC OnLine Bom 2233, dated 07-08-2018]

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